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Chapter 1: The Way of the Birds

A monk said to Tozan, “You always tell learners to take the way of the birds. What is this ‘way of the birds’?”
Tozan said, “You meet nobody on it.”
The monk then asked, “How can we go on this way?”
Tozan answered, “By egolessness, attending to each step as it comes.”
The monk said, “Isn’t the birds’ way the same as one’s original nature?”
Tozan said, “O monk, why do you get everything upside-down?”
The monk asked, “What is this place where people get things upside-down?”
Tozan said, “If there were no topsy-turviness how could a servant become a lord?”
The monk asked, “What is our original nature?”
Tozan answered, “Not taking the way of the birds.”

When a monk asked Kassan, “What is the way?” he answered, “The sun overflows our eyes; for ten thousand leagues not a cloud hangs in the sky.”
“What is the real form of the universe?” asked the monk.
“The fishes at play in the clear-flowing water make their mistakes,” replied Kassan.

Maneesha, the bird flying across the sky leaves no footprints. This is called “the way of the birds” - simply disappearing into the nothingness of the sky, without leaving a trace behind. Zen wants you to be just like the birds’ way - a nobody, a nothingness.

It is strange but true that in your nothingness you are for the first time, born. The nothingness is the womb out of which your spiritual heights are revealed.

Just as you cannot follow the bird because he leaves no footprints, the buddha also leaves no footprints. You cannot follow a buddha for the simple reason that you are a buddha; you have just forgotten it. And once you try to follow a buddha, you are going astray.

Those who leave footprints behind them - create organized religions, give commandments for the coming future, scriptures to be followed by those who have not yet come - are all engaged in nonreligious activity.

Religion is a rebellion, a rebellion against following.

This is a religious place. You are not my followers: you can love me, I can love you. Following means a subtle spiritual slavery. I don’t have any follower and I don’t want anybody to be a follower of anybody else either. The moment you start following someone, you are going to miss yourself. You will be lost in dark nights and dark clouds, and it will become more and more difficult to find the way back home.

A monk said to Tozan, “You always tell learners to take the way of the birds. What is this ‘way of the birds’?”
Tozan said, “You meet nobody on it.”

It reminds me of a very beautiful story in Aesop’s fables. There are scholars who think that Aesop never existed as a person, that those stories are told by Gautam Buddha, who was also called Bodhisat. And the word Bodhisat, moving from country to country, became Aesop. But it does not matter who told them; the stories are significant on their own.

This story is that a little girl, Alice, reached Wonderland and wanted to see the king. She was led to the king’s court and the king asked the little girl, “Did you meet somebody on the way coming toward me? I am waiting for somebody.”

The girl factually replied, “Nobody, sir.”

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